LSU’s offensive staff needs to be adjusted
By GLENN GUILBEAU
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
In two years as LSU’s offensive coordinator, Greg Studrawa has done a very good job.
When Jarrett Lee was the starting quarterback in the 2011 season, LSU fielded its best passing game since Matt Flynn was the quarterback in 2007 behind Studrawa and quarterbacks coach Steve Kragthorpe.
It was not Studrawa’s fault that head coach Les Miles benched the No. 1 passing efficiency quarterback in the Southeastern Conference so he could return the erratic and the confused but his beloved Jordan Jefferson to the starting job.
Studrawa and Kragthorpe also did a good job this season with first-year starter Zach Mettenberger, who improved drastically over the final four regular season games. Some of his erratic play returned in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but considering LSU’s poor play at receiver and inconsistent pass protection behind a rebuilt offensive line because of injuries, Mettenberger had a decent season overall. And LSU’s passing game improved significantly from the unit headed by Jefferson.
Yes, Mettenberger contributed to LSU’s back-to-back three-and-outs in the fourth quarter and five for the game in the loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. But, remember, Jefferson had a hand in six three-and-outs in the BCS title game against Alabama last season and another six in the first half alone against Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game behind a better, deeper and much healthier offensive line. Jefferson also benefitted from the play of a better defense, one that included game changer extraordinaire Tyrann Mathieu.
Three and outs are nothing new in LSU’s offense in recent years. It is only suddenly being used as an excuse for the defense because LSU’s defense was not as good this season as it was in recent seasons whereas the offense was better.
This is why Mettenberger twice left the field in the 2012 season with the lead and with only slightly more than 90 seconds to play against Alabama and Clemson, and his defense lost both games. Yes, LSU’s defense was on the field for 100 plays against Clemson and grew tired. But Clemson moved the ball virtually at will against LSU in the first and second quarters when the defense was fresh. The best way for a defense to get off the field is to force some three-and-outs from the other team, and LSU’s defense rarely did that against Clemson, which treated it like an ACC defense in gaining 445 yards and rattling off an uncanny 32 first downs. The chain gang probably got tired, too.
LSU’s pass defense in 2012 was defensive coordinator John Chavis’ worst since he has been here. LSU allowed 206 yards passing a game last season after 171 in 2011, 170 in 2010 and 194 in 2009. Yes, LSU lost Mathieu and cornerback Morris Claiborne, a first round pick, and was forced to play youngsters Jalen Mills and Jalen Collins. But for the most part, they played well. Veterans like Eric Reid and cornerback Tharold Simon, who was roasted by Clemson, did not play as well in 2012 as in 2011. And Chavis has lost great players before and recovered better. Patrick Peterson is one.
Meanwhile, there was improvement on offense in 2012. LSU averaged 374 yards a game on offense - 22 more yards a game than in 2011. Mettenberger passed for 200 yards a game. As efficient as Lee was last year, he threw for just 156 yards a game through his first eight when he was playing regularly. Jefferson averaged a mere 73 yards passing a game.
And Mettenberger will continue to get better. The problem is LSU needs to get better at wide receiver and on the offensive line.
The return of 2012 signees Travin Dural and Avery Johnson should help. Dural was ticketed for significant play before injuring a knee before the season. Johnson was an academic casualty who could also have an impact. The class of 2013 at the moment has only two receiver commitments in 29th ranked John Diarse of Neville High in Monroe and 6-4 junior college transfer Quantavius Leslie.
The line needs to get much better at pass protection. Mettenberger was sacked six times in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and on most of those he was barely set. No, he is not a mobile quarterback. Neither is Alabama’s AJ McCarron. Neither was Alabama’s Greg McElroy. But they played behind great offensive lines that protected the passer and got both into three national championship games. Georgia’s Aaron Murray is not a mobile quarterback either, and he was allowed to play expertly because of an offensive line that protects the passer.
LSU has some very good, young offensive linemen returning in starting right tackle Vadal Alexander, starting right guard Trai Turner, backup center Elliott Porter and 2012 tackle signee Jerald Hawkins. Josh Williford at right guard will return after missing most of 2012 with an injury.
What they need is Studrawa - not a graduate assistant - on the sidelines. Studrawa needs to come down from the press box coaching booth and return to his full time duties as LSU’s offensive line coach on the field. Not because he did poorly as the offensive coordinator, but because he is a great offensive line coach. And Mettenberger and the line needs him. They needed him at the Georgia Dome last week.
Remember, Studrawa was not Miles’ first choice to be offensive coordinator after the 2010 season when Gary Crowton was let go. Stud was not even No. 2. Steve Kragthorpe, a former head coach at Tulsa and Louisville who was a quarterbacks coach in the NFL and an offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, got that job over TCU co-offensive coordinator Justin Fuente, who is now the head coach at Memphis. Studrawa was considered but finished third or lower.
Kragthorpe then had to step down just before August practices in 2011 because he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Studrawa was given a battlefield promotion and has performed admirably, but LSU’s offense needs to be much better, particulary if LSU’s two-minute defense continues to lose games - tired or not.
If Miles likes the job Studrawa has done as offensive coordinator, then he needs to hire another great offensive line coach. If Kragthorpe is healthier now than he was in 2010, then he could be elevated to offensive coordinator, but he left that position because stress aggravates Parkinson’s disease. Kragthorpe’s health is a personal issue, but it is also a personnel issue with LSU. Miles needs to make a decision.
Perhaps tight ends coach Steve Ensminger could take over as offensive coordinator with Kragthorpe remaining as quarterbacks coach. This would enable Stud to return to the offensive line exclusively. It has been a number of years, but Ensminger does have major college offensive coordinator experience at Clemson, Texas A&M, Georgia and Louisiana Tech in the 1990s. Wide receiver coach Adam Henry could add the tight end position.
Or, perhaps, Miles needs to go find a hot, pass-oriented offensive coordinator who can complement the work Kragthorpe has done with Mettenberger. Maybe he could help sign a few better receivers, too. Then one of Miles’ current offensive assistants would have to move to an assistant athletic director or football operations position of some sort.
LSU could be better and faster at wide receiver, but the talent is there at quarterback, tailback and the offensive line. There needs to be more talent on the sidelines and in the coaching booth for LSU’s offense to challenge for another national championship. LSU’s offense has been bad or average for way too long.
Glenn Guilbeau covers LSU athletics for the Gannett News Service. He attended LSU Journalism before graduating from Missouri Journalism. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.